Technology’s ‘silk road’ cuts an East-West path through Tel Aviv

Mobile ad exec says Israeli companies benefit from country’s location at a ‘crossroads’

A man explains the application of smart mobile phones during a recent start-up event. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
A man explains the application of smart mobile phones during a recent start-up event. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

One of the surprising ways in which Israel has taken a global technology leadership role is in the mobile and digital advertising space.

With few of the world’s mobile device users understanding Hebrew, and most living in places where there are local ad networks and platforms to cover the demand, the prominence of Israeli tech in this area would appear to be very unlikely. Israeli firms are well represented in this area, with seven to 10 of the world’s biggest platforms headquartered in Israel or started by Israelis abroad (depending on the criteria).

The technologies used by these companies to get and serve customers is very complicated, and Matomy COO Sagi Niri admits that the distinction between these technologies is difficult to explain to those outside the business – and even to insiders. Yet, he says, his company’s is “better than the rest.”

“One answer to the question of how Israel got to where it is today could be the fact that we are a crossroads of business and technology,” said Niri. “Israel does a lot of business with China, and companies there see Israel as a bridge to the West, while companies in the US and Europe see Israel as a window to the East, and both sides are very impressed with our technology and entrepreneurial capabilities. It’s like a modern version of the Silk Road.”

Niri was speaking on the sidelines of GMIC, an international mobile tech show that made its Tel Aviv debut this year, where much of that complicated mobile advertising tech was on display. Attending the event were thousands of Israeli mobile tech professionals, as well as foreign investors – especially from China – who came to check what Israeli companies in the mobile space had to offer.

Sagi Niri (Courtesy)
Sagi Niri (Courtesy)

Among those at the event were Matomy (listed as 23rd largest mobile advertising platform in the world in an industry survey), which provides a variety of ad services.

“We can work with anyone in any format, such as app developer who wants to monetize his app, or a distributor of that app who wants to increase its reach. Our technology combines tracking, data and business intelligence in real time, via in-app advertising, integration of video and social into apps and sites, and many other features that companies need in order to directly hit their target audience,” said Niri.

Today, over 3 billion people in the world have mobile devices, and for many of them, those devices are the only media they are exposed to, which makes the mobile advertising business one of the biggest growing industries of any kind. This year, mobile ad spend is expected to exceed $100 billion, for the first time more than half of digital advertising expenditures – and there are plenty of companies like Matomy rushing to get a piece of the action.

Wouldn’t Chinese app makers, for example, feel more comfortable working with a company that speaks their same language?

“I think it’s the well-known Israeli entrepreneurial drive and ingenuity that has gotten us to the top of this heap,” said Niri. “This drive is well-known around the world, and the more companies around the world are exposed to the tech innovations we have developed here, the more impressed they are.”

With China now among Israel’s largest trading partners, Israeli companies are getting a lot of high-profile exposure to investors there. Dozens were at GMIC speaking to start-ups and established companies, and there are large Chinese delegations at almost all the major tech events in Israel. from medical to cyber-security. As more Israeli firms close deals with Chinese investors, Western firms are taking notice, said Niri – and they see partnering with Israeli firms as a way to get into the Chinese market.

At the same time, Chinese investors are realizing that working with Israeli companies is an ideal method to develop better connections with firms in Europe and the US, which already are working with Israeli companies. Just as China and the West connected via the Mediterranean in order to trade during medieval times, Israel has become the crossroads of a new international trade between East and West, said Niri.

“The more Chinese investors get to know our technology, the more they become interested in what companies here are doing – and the more Israeli firms are likely to be bought out by Chinese companies, just as Western investors have been doing for years. Israel really is the center of the world – at least the business world.”

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